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About

The Duke Initiative for Science & Society Science Policy Tracking Program is a comprehensive resource for scientists, policy makers, the public, students, and other stakeholders on developments in science and technology policy.

Mission & Purpose

SciPol is brought to you by the Duke Initiative for Science & Society (S&S), which seeks to maximize social benefit from scientific progress by making science more accessible, just, and better integrated into society.

SciPol is an unbiased public service website providing policy updates, explanation of the relevant science at issue, and opportunities for engagement in the policy-making process. Existing topical coverage includes genetics/genomics, nanotechnology, neuroscience, and robotics/artificial intelligence; expansion into energy is forthcoming.

The site also presents broad job opportunities within Science Policy & Bioethics.

SciPol seeks to provide timely and quality information to a broad audience of academics, companies, journalists, nonprofits, and policy practitioners. Policy development updates are initially posted when made available by policy actors; novel briefs are published after being authored, reviewed, and edited for quality.

Topics

Genetics/Genomics

Genetics is the study of genes, genetic variation and heredity. Genomics is the analyses of an organism’s entire genetic makeup, which is called a genome. Genomics includes efforts to understand how genomes are organized and function, how they differ in subtle ways among individuals to influence health and disease risk, and how they interact with environmental or non-genetic factors, such as a person's lifestyle.

Examples of genetic/genomics policy topics covered by SciPol include:

  • Agricultural genetics
  • Cancer genetics
  • Direct-to-consumer genetic testing
  • DNA collection, typically related to more specific topics such as genetic privacy, forensics, & precision medicine
  • DNA diagnostics & gene sequencing
  • Fetal tissue research/testing
  • GMO foods & labeling
  • Gene editing and gene therapy
  • Genes and ancestry
  • Genetics and intellectual property
  • Genetic toxicology and mutation causation
  • Genetic diseases: research, diagnosis, and treatment
  • Governance of genetic data and genetic privacy; Genetic Information Non-discrimination Act (GINA)
  • Human identification & forensic DNA
  • Newborn screening, typically related to DNA collection
  • Precision medicine
  • Reproductive procedures/technologies, such as preimplantation genetic diagnosis or mitochondrial replacement therapy
  • Stem cell research/testing & stem cell-based therapeutics

Neuroscience

Neuroscience is the study of how the nervous system develops, its structure, and what it does. Much of neuroscience focuses on how the brain works, including how it creates and controls behavior and cognitive functions. Not only is neuroscience concerned with the normal functioning of the nervous system, but also what happens to the nervous system when people have neurological, psychiatric and neurodevelopmental disorders.

Examples of neuroscience policy topics covered by SciPol include:

  • Brain health & cognitive development
  • Brain research, and related technologies and techniques such as brain imaging or genetic or stem cell therapies 
  • Environmental neurotoxins
  • Mental health, such as depression, anxiety, & schizophrenia
  • Neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s & Parkinson’s
  • Neurodevelopmental disorders, such as autism
  • Neurological diseases, such as epilepsy
  • Traumatic Brain Injury, concussions, and head safety

Nanotechnology

Nanotechnology is defined as science, engineering, and technology conducted at the nanoscale, which is at the scale of about 1 to 100 nanometers, thousands of times smaller than the human eye can see. Nanoscience crosscuts all fields of the physical sciences including chemistry, biology, physics, materials science, and engineering. Nanotechnology enables understanding, measurement, manipulation, and manufacture at the atomic, molecular, and supramolecular (more complex) levels, by controlling new molecular organization, properties, and functions, in order to create materials, devices, and systems.

Examples of nanotechnology policy topics covered by SciPol include:

  • Legal definitions, categorizations, and policy developments related to naturally occurring, incidentally produced, and engineered nanomaterials
  • Issues pertaining to nanoinformatics, i.e., big data about nanomaterials
  • Policy related developments on specific nanomaterial applications, including:
    • Nanomedicines, such as therapies that specifically target cancer cells
    • Nanosensors incorporated into clothing or directly applied to skin
    • 3D printing using nanoparticles or cells to produce small circuits as well as organs for transplantation
    • Semiconductors (microchips produced using nanotechnology that control all modern electronics) and electronic circuit advancements
    • Energy sustainability technologies, such as nano-enabled solar cells and nanocatalysts for water splitting to produce hydrogen for fuel
    • Nano-enabled batteries produced for enhanced life and efficiency
    • Environmental remediation and protection strategies, such as nano-absorbants that remove greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere
  • Policy related developments focused on particular novel properties at the nanoscale
    • Superconductivity at room temperature, to power a new generation of MRIs and Maglev trains
  • Super-strong and highly flexible material properties conferred by nanoscale materials

    Robotics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) 

    Robotics is an interdisciplinary field combining computer science, mechanical engineering and electrical engineering to design, construct, and operate robots. A robot, in this context, is a programmable machine capable of carrying out complex actions automatically. Artificial intelligence refers to the development of machines capable of performing tasks that traditionally require human intelligence.

    Examples of robotics/AI policy topics covered by SciPol include:

    • Autonomous/driverless transportation, including road, rail, maritime and air.
    • Civilian drones regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
    • Robot-assisted surgery
    • Medical service robots, including concierge and therapy robots 
    • Autonomous weapons
    • Liability and safety implications for robots
    • Privacy issues for robot technology

    People

    Nita A. Farahany, PhD, JD

    Nita Farahany is Director of S&S and a Professor of Law and Philosophy. She is a leading scholar on the ethical, legal, and social implications of biosciences and emerging technologies, particularly those related to neuroscience and behavioral genetics.

    Aubrey Incorvaia, MPP

    Aubrey Incorvaia is the Director of SciPol. She began her public service career as a licensed social worker in Ohio, serving a wide range of populations. She transitioned to focus on public policy, attaining her master’s degree from Duke’s Sanford School in 2009. Since then, she’s worked in local and state government. Most recently, she served as a nonpartisan Fiscal Analyst for the North Carolina General Assembly. (aubrey.incorvaia@duke.edu)

    Nancy Birkner, PhD

    Nancy studies nanomaterials, which are materials that are thousands of times smaller than the eye can see. These materials behave (or react) much differently than large-scale materials and may impact the health and safety of humans and the environment. Nancy oversees the development and publication of SciPol content related to this topic. She is also a Postdoctoral Associate at the Center for Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology (CEINT) where she works to enable global sharing of nanomaterial data. Her Ph.D. in Chemistry focused on nanomaterial thermodynamics under the supervision of Professor Alexandra Navrotsky, who is also known as “The mother of thermodynamics”. (nancy.birkner@duke.edu)

    Rosa Castro, LLM, PhD

    Rosa Castro oversees publications of SciPol content related to judicial decisions. She is a Postdoctoral Associate at Duke Science & Society and Managing Editor of the Journal of Law and the Biosciences. She has an LL.M. (Hamburg University, University of Bologna), a Ph.D. in Law and Economics (Erasmus University Rotterdam, University of Bologna) and an MA in Bioethics and Science Policy (Duke University). Her research interests lie at the intersection of health, innovation, and intellectual property law. (rosa.castro@duke.edu)

    Michael Clamann, PhD

    Michael Clamann oversees the development and publication of SciPol content related to robotics and artificial intelligence (AI). He is also a Senior Research Scientist in the Humans and Autonomy Lab (HAL) within Duke Robotics, where he works to better understand the complex interactions between robots and people and how they influence system effectiveness and safety. He received a PhD and MIE in Industrial and Systems Engineering and a MS in Experimental Psychology from North Carolina State University. He has worked in industry as a Human Factors Engineer since 2002, supporting government and private clients in domains including aerospace, defense and telecommunications. He is also a Certified Human Factors Professional (CHFP). (michael.clamann@duke.edu)

    Buz Waitzkin, JD, LLM

    Michael “Buz” Waitzkin is Deputy Director of S&S, and a Senior Lecturing Fellow. He has extensive experience as a practicing lawyer within the private biomedical and government sectors.                                                                                               

    Andrew Pericak, MEM

    Andrew Pericak contributes to and edits content for SciPol. He received the Master of Environmental Management degree from Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment in 2016, at which he specialized in Environmental Economics and Policy. Before that, he received the Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Studies and Geography from the University of Richmond. Andrew also has extensive experience with geographic information systems (GIS) and has produced open spatial data currently used in academic research and public advocacy. (andrew.pericak@duke.edu)

    Alexandra Sutton Lawrence, PhD

    As SciPol's Lead Editor for Energy, Alexandra holds a joint appointment with the Energy Initiative. She is a graduate of the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke, where she worked with Professor Stuart Pimm to study best practices in biodiversity conservation. Her dissertation, Conservation in the Human Landscape, comprises case studies of leadership, management, and finance in global environmental initiatives. She has held previous policy positions at The Wildlife Society and the Consortium for Ocean Leadership, and her research has been supported by The Explorers’ Club; National Geographic’s Big Cats Initiative; and Sigma Xi.  She is also the founder of Kedge Conservation, a social innovation startup that works to promote financial literacy, access, and equity in East & Southern Africa. (alexandra.sutton@duke.edu)

    Alex Robeson, PhD

    Alex oversees SciPol publications that focus on the genetics and genomics policy landscape. He is also a postdoctoral associate in Duke’s Department of Pharmacology and Cancer Biology (PCB), where he focuses on how chemotherapies act at the cellular level. Alex received a PhD from Duke’s Program in Molecular Cancer Biology where he studied basic mechanisms of cell death. Prior to his graduate work, Alex studied human genomics and cancer-driving mutations in the Oncogenomics Laboratory at the Translational Genomics Research Institute in Phoenix, AZ. (alexander.robeson@duke.edu)

    Additional Contributors

    Faculty, postdocs, graduate students, and undergraduates work together on innovative ways to analyze, research, and communicate up-to-date information about new developments in science policy.

    More information regarding the broader S&S community is available here.

    Contact Us

    Questions about the site? Recommendations for policy, news, or engagements to follow? Send them to scipol@duke.edu.

    You can also submit a science policy or bioethics related job opportunity here.

    Science & Society Collaboratory @ Erwin Mill
    Erwin Mill, Bay A, #201-205
    2024 W. Main Street
    Durham, NC 27705
    scienceandsociety@duke.edu
    (919) 668-0790

    Giving

    The Duke Initiative for Science & Society welcomes contributions to support its many endeavors—graduate and undergraduate curriculum development; community engagement; research on the ethical, legal, and social implications of science; and educational programs. We offer a variety of programs to Duke University and the local community, including a distinguished speaker series, a monthly roundtable discussion, science communication training, and Periodic Tables, a monthly science cafe. We also publish a weekly email newsletter to highlight upcoming programs and recent advances in research at Duke University and beyond.

    By making a tax-deductible 501(c)(3) donation to Science & Society, you can make a difference in the lives of faculty and students engaged in these endeavors, as well as the broader public and community, in how science impacts, and is impacted by, society.

    Please donate today on this secure online form.

    For more information, please email scienceandsociety@duke.edu or call (919) 668-0790.